With the book apparently teetering on the brink of a new “frictionless” digital existence, Nicholas Carr plumbs some of the less-enchanting side effects:
When Amazon delivers a copy of The Remains of the Day to your Kindle, Bezos goes on to explain, the company “has pre-calculated all of the interesting phrases” and turned them into links. My, what a convenience! As a reader, I no longer have to waste a lot of mental energy figuring out which phrases in a book are interesting. It’s all been pre-calculated for me! Here we have a preview of what happens when engineers begin to recreate books, and the experience of reading, in the image of the web. The algorithmical mind begins to run roughshod over the literary mind.
Needless to say, there are also commercial angles here. Clicking on an “interesting phrase” will no doubt eventually trigger not just Wikipedia and Shelfari articles but also contextual advertisements as well as product recommendations from Amazon’s store. Removing the edges from a book also serves to reduce friction from the purchasing process.
It’s intriguing to think that books — one of the simplest-yet-most-complex expressions of the human experience — will now be subject to the same algorithmic slice and dice that reduced online words to “content” and dumbed the Internet so far down that content farms were actually winning the battle for the public’s eyes.
I’m on board with digital distribution, but I’ll take mine unaltered (if you want to throw in a video of the author, I’m down with that).
Read the rest of Carr’s typically insightful commentary here.